ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - An increase in the number of hit-and-run accidents is sparking calls for tougher penalties for motorists who flee the scene in Indiana.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says nearly 20 percent of the more than 4,700 pedestrians killed in the U.S. in 2012 were involved in hit-and-run crashes. Indiana saw more than a half-dozen hit-and-run crashes in June that killed or seriously injured people.
Victims’ families and authorities say they’re frustrated by the cases, many of which leave inadequate evidence that makes it hard to catch the culprit. Others say that even when they’re caught, offending drivers often get off too easily.
“I believe the consequences, if the evidence is there, might need to be strengthened,” said Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger, whose county saw 48 hit-and-runs in 2014, up from 34 in 2010.
Mellinger told The Herald Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1dyqhQp ) he has seen an increase in the number of drivers “who have no consideration for others and are totally irresponsible.” But he said he thinks “education and setting a good example for our younger citizens is the direction we should be headed.”
Leigh Ann Schattner, whose 26-year-old daughter, Keri Lynn Winningham, died after being struck by a hit-and-run driver last fall, said the justice system failed her.
The driver, Ava L. Conley, 59, said she saw Winningham walking across the street late at night but didn’t stop after hitting her because a male passenger was wanted on an arrest warrant.
Winningham was badly injured and lay in the road, where she was struck by a second vehicle that killed her. The driver of that vehicle stopped and tried to revive her and later attended her funeral.
Conley was charged with failure to stop after an accident resulting in death. The Level 5 felony carries a penalty of a fixed term of one to six years in prison, but Conley accepted a plea bargain that resulted in three years of home detention. If she doesn’t violate terms of her sentence, Conley will serve a year and a half.
“In my opinion, for her not to get any prison time is ridiculous,” said Anderson police Detective Norman Rayford, who investigated the Winningham case. “She leaves a local bar. She travels northbound on Scatterfield, runs over a young lady, doesn’t even attempt to stop to render aid. She could have gone to a pay phone - she doesn’t even do that. And then she solicits someone to help cover up the crime.”
Conley said she has been disowned by her family and said she believes the punishment is just.
“I have never had anything in my life criminal,” she said. “I have not had a misdemeanor, criminal or whatever. Right now, they have me to where the only time I’m allowed out in my yard is on Saturday.”
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com
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